We often read that our country is acutely polarized, in particular in the throes of citizen groups opposing one another and as it seems sometimes almost ready to go to war. If you’re like me and watched the recent Impeachment Hearings in the House of Representatives you’d probably agree that the extreme polarization we are experiencing was in public view during the Hearings. Throughout the Hearings Adam Shiff and Jerry Nadler et al at one pole, and Devin Nunes and Doug Collins et al at the other, were more than ready, if given the OK, to tear into one another as in a mini-House of Representatives Civil War.
What is it that best describes, may even account for the polarization? Left vs. right, as in Sanders vs. Boutigieg? Liberal vs. Conservative, as in the New York Times vs. Fox News? Believer vs. Non-believer, religious vs. secular, as in Pence vs. Bloomberg? Or any one of scores of other dualities. perhaps the very worst at present being Syrians vs. Syrians, and Rohingya vs. Rohingya where at this time millions of refugées are fleeing their homes?
Now man’s history is among other things an endless series of Civil Wars wars of opposites such as Left and Right. Wars between two opposing sides, whatever these might be, as that between slavers and anti-slavers, as between North and South, Korea and Vietnam, as between the Whites and the Reds in the early years of the Soviet Union couldn’t be more common.
In the history books there are huge numbers of Civil Wars. Not as many as the grains of sand on St. Pete’s beach where I live, not as many as the the numbers of leaves now falling from Tampa’s prized oak trees, although perhaps as many as the grains of sand in my grandchildren’s buckets this morning on the beach. In any case Wikipedia lists thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Civil Wars, its listing going back at least as far as Ancient Greece and Rome.
The wars between us outnumber most other events. In fact what else has happened as often? Well births and deaths, but that’s about it. And it may very well be that all wars are to a great extent Civil Wars. And we might say based on the evidence that man, in answer to the question What is Man, is the most apt of all of God’s creatures to go to a war to the death with his semblable.
But today, what is it that may best account for the differences that divide us. What is it in our history that most helps us to understand what is happening today? Some seem to be of the opinion that have to go back to the founding of the country to find an answer to this question, to what it is that so polarizes us.
Are our times any different from past times? Or has it always been like this? I don’t know, but let’s go back to the country’s founding. One side of the Left Right division would see the Founders as the forerunners of today’s secularists who prize a “wall of separation” between church and state. “The other side in this debate would see instead the Founders as having intended that the United States be a Christian nation built upon Christian and, specifically, biblical principles. (I take the nub of this idea from Gregg Frazer’s book, The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders.)
The founders of course were probably, like all of us, of at least two minds on the subject. That is probably why we’ve had but one major Civil War between us since our founding in 1776. President Trump is doing his best to change this. We don’t wish him well in the endeavor.